Now I know this is one of the most overused sayings – but if I had a nickel for every time that someone felt sorry for me for having to follow a gluten free diet, I’d be rich.
For those of you following a gluten free diet, you know exactly what I mean.
Every time your celiac condition or gluten intolerance comes up with your peers, it is almost always followed by expressions of sympathy and discussions of how happy that person is to be among the world’s gluten tolerant.
When I explain celiac disease or gluten intolerance to people (as I normally do when I go out to eat with them), they always say that they would never be able to follow such a diet. They insist that they are so in love with bread, pasta, pizza, and other staples that such a diet would be impossible for them to follow, and how lucky they are to have avoided having to.
Often times I feel the need to respond. Maybe I am in the minority, but I do not like having people feel bad for me, especially for something that I do not feel is a curse. In fact, I think it can be a blessing.
Why Following a Gluten Free Diet Is a Blessing – Not a Curse
While being diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance is not good news to most, it is certainly better news than many alternatives. I will use my own diagnosis as an example:
When I was 16 years old, I was lifting weights, playing football, and was in most respects, a pretty healthy kid. When I began feeling tired all the time and started to lose weight, I began fearing (as the rest of my family almost surely did as well) that something really, really bad might be going on. Instead, I discovered that I had a condition that could be treated by a change in my diet and a deeper understanding of nutrition.
Think of the person who had anemia for 8 years, or osteoporosis and recurring bone fractures, chronic fatigue and weight loss, migraines, severe skin rashes and a number of other problems. Up until the point of diagnosis, the only hope for these people was to treat the symptoms (often unsuccessfully) with medications, or to just suffer through them. Now, try to imagine the moment when they learned that they could actually treat the underlying cause of those symptoms with a change to their diet and that they could eliminate these negative aspects of their lives just by eliminating certain foods. Do you still feel sorry for these people? I know I only speak for myself, but I’ll take strong bones over Kentucky Fried Chicken any day.
My Celiac Diagnosis and a Deeper Appreciation for Food
Now this may be a stretch, but I’m going to say that not only is a diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten intolerance better than the alternative, but it brings its own merits as well. Bear with me on this.
Ten years ago when I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I seldom came across anyone that had even heard of gluten. Today, it is one of the fastest growing sectors of the food and restaurant industries. This is enormously exciting as I am now being exposed to a seemingly endless list of gluten free products, restaurants, support groups, and websites that have a huge impact on my life. This provides the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised when you least expect it.
For example, I recently moved to a new neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. About 5 months after I had settled into my new apartment, a pizza restaurant opened up across the street. After a friend looked up their menu online, he told me that they offered gluten free pizza. Instantly, I mobilized the troops and we ventured across the street to check it out. Not only was I surprised by one of the best gluten free pizzas I had ever tasted, but I was able to order several different kinds of gluten free beer from the bar as well. Most importantly, I had a far greater appreciation for what I was eating than my friends. They were simply eating at “any other” pizza place. To me, the experience was very special.
People who can eat what they want, when they want, lose this simple appreciation. When our dietary options are restricted in such drastic ways, we gain a very special appreciation for certain foods when we’re able to eat them and become ecstatic to find new products, new restaurants, new friends who share our diets, and most importantly, new gluten free beer!
Following a Gluten Free Diet, and More Important Things
I do not mean to seem antagonistic to our gluten-eating friends. I want them to enjoy the bread that is brought to the table before a meal. I want them to order pitchers of beer at happy hour and let me be content with a mixed drink. I do not want them to change their diets or habits.
What I do want is for them to stop feeling so bad for us and expressing their astonishment at our ability to follow such a “radical” diet. The truth is that if given the option that we are given, they would have no problem adapting to such a diet. They would shortly learn that it wasn’t so bad because, to be perfectly honest, food is just food. The really important things in life can’t be counted in calories.